Ferguson Braces For New Night Of Clashes, As Leaders Call For Peace
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The tension on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, seems to have been reduced this evening. So far, protests have been peaceful. That's after four days of standoffs between police in riot gear and angry demonstrators shouting at them. Protests have turned violent each night since the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown last weekend. Tonight there is a different police presence on the streets, and that has prompted a different atmosphere in Ferguson. NPR's Cheryl Corley is there, and she joins us now. Cheryl, what's the police presence like there today?
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: It's a lot lighter first of all, Robert, I must say. And the police that are here are not in any kind of riot gear at all. They are walking through the crowds. They are talking with people. They are interacting with folks much differently than they have been doing in the past few days or so. You still hear the chants from people here about hands up, don't shoot. But it's calmer. There's lots of horn honking and just people coming out and being outside. A man just rode by on a pony. So - entirely different here tonight.
SIEGEL: Well, explain who is now leading the police operation in Ferguson, Missouri.
CORLEY: Governor Nixon made an announcement at a press conference this afternoon that he was bringing in the highway patrol to lead the security here. And the man that he named is Captain Ronald Johnson. He has been part of the highway patrol for some time. And he's also been a part of this area. You know, a lot has been made, Robert, about the fact that - in the Ferguson police department, the majority of the officers there are white with only three African-Americans. Well, the captain is an African-American, and today he wanted to make sure that people just knew that he had a connection to the community, and here's what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
RONALD JOHNSON: I grew up here, and this is currently my community and my home. And therefore, it means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence, diffuse the tension and build trust, showing the utmost respect for every interaction with every citizen.
CORLEY: And that, again, is Captain Ronald Johnson who is leading the security efforts here in Ferguson tonight.
SIEGEL: Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson spoke to the media this afternoon and he commented on why, before tonight, there had been such a heavy show of force by police in riot gear using tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters.
CORLEY: You know, it was very interesting what he had to say. He talked about the fighting here and what seemed like a very military presence in Ferguson. And Chief Jackson said that the whole picture of what has been happening was just being painted sideways. He said the action that was being taken was being done by those in blue, mainly by the police and not the military. And when he was asked what went into that decision about firing tear gas or rubber bullets into a crowd, here's what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
THOMAS JACKSON: Those decisions were made by the tactical commanders on the ground, and it was based on the threat - the threat of violence. If individuals are in a crowd that's attacking the police, they need to get out of that crowd.
CORLEY: And the police chief is no longer in charge here tonight, and as you mentioned, it's just a totally different atmosphere.
SIEGEL: Cheryl, President Obama also addressed the nation earlier today from Martha's Vineyard. He spoke about two things - Iraq, but also what's happening in Ferguson.
CORLEY: Absolutely. He said he wanted everyone to take a step back and to think about how to move forward - that he had gotten an update from the attorney general and repeated that it was the Department of Justice - he had the Department of Justice and the FBI doing an independent look into the death of Michael. And he said it was just important to remember how this started out with the death of and 18-year-old. The president said there was really no excuse for violence against police - no excuse for police to use excessive force. And he knew that there was going to be differences of opinion, but here's what he had to say when he talked, again, just about moving forward.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now's the time for healing. Now's the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now's the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done.
SIEGEL: President Obama speaking today from Martha's Vineyard. NPR's Cheryl Corley in Ferguson, Missouri, thanks.
CORLEY: You're welcome.